Two weeks ago, I boarded my first flight in 494 days, headed for Samana in the Dominican Republic.
It was an exciting but somewhat unnerving experience, one that I imagine most travelers who have been homebound for the past 15 months experience as they make plans to step out into the world again.
I felt like a newbie at the airport at 4:30 a.m. But I'm not that much of a newbie: I'd already filled out the Traveler's Health Affidavit required by the DR, I knew that the health and travel insurance coverage required for entry was free to travelers through July 31, and I'd printed out the QR code required to enter and leave.
My passport is valid for two more years. I had business cards, my phone charger, my laptop and my vaccination card with me, and I'd packed more clothes than needed for a short trip. I felt really buttoned up.
There was a crowd of people around the kiosks, most of them masked as required in airports except for the one guy who held a piece of Kleenex over his mouth and kept apologizing for leaving his mask at home.
Two overworked American Airlines agents were answering questions, checking bags and dealing with the kiosks that weren't working.
After getting my boarding passes, I stood in a long line to check my bag. I rarely check a bag, but handing it off was one less thing to worry about.
"Where's the luggage tag?" the agent asked me. "Go back to the kiosk and print it out."
Time was tight now. At the kiosk I got an error message saying that I had already checked in and could not get boarding passes a second time.
"I want a luggage tag, not a boarding pass," I said to the kiosk as if it were a person. The Kleenex guy was at the next kiosk and offered to help. Whatever he did, out popped a luggage tag.
The TSA fast-pass lane at security wasn't open, but I was handed a card to show that I did not have to unload, unpack and undress before going through the scanner.
My belt buckle set the thing off, so I went through again and was patted down, and then I sprinted for the gate.
Arrival at El Catey airport in Samana in a downpour was a fiasco with slippery steps from the plane to the bus to the terminal and everyone trying to dodge the raindrops.
One passenger took her mask off as she descended the steps but was reprimanded by the security guard on the tarmac. My mask was plastered to my face at this point.
I had a temperature check, filled out another health form at Immigration and Customs, got my damp suitcase off the carousel and headed for the sign with my name on it.
I was on four planes on this trip. All my flights were uneventful. The planes had no movies, no plugs for phones and no Biscoff cookies (which I love). The flight attendants made several announcements reminding us to keep our masks on and our noses covered. The flights to and from Charlotte, N.C., to Samana were one-quarter full, but the new twice-weekly service had begun only four days earlier. Everyone had plenty of room.
The day before departure from the DR I tested negative with a nasal swab that reached my eyeballs. The nurse apologized.
I didn't lose anything on this trip, and I kept a close eye on the all-important piece of paper with the QR code on it.
What I noticed was that everyone, from passengers and airport staff to security personnel and Immigration and Customs officials, was patient, helpful and courteous.
Maybe some of us were experienced travelers, but the novelty and freedom of traveling again had everyone on good behavior.
The flight attendant on my first leg really set the tone for me -- and probably for all us. "Welcome back to travel," she said to everyone as we boarded the plane.